Jerry Buss: A Legendary Sports Owner’s Legacy

Explore Jerry Buss' journey from humble beginnings to LA Lakers owner, his innovative sports entertainment approach, and enduring legacy.
Jerry Buss

Jerry Buss, the former owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, was an influential businessman whose impact on American sports is still felt today. Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1933, Buss grew up during the Great Depression and experienced a challenging childhood. Despite these early struggles, he went on to become one of the greatest owners in sports history and left a lasting legacy on the NBA.

Buss’s journey to success began with a strong work ethic, developed while working for his stepfather’s plumbing company. He also held a job at a local hotel during high school, earning two dollars a day. Academically, Buss excelled and eventually earned a scholarship to attend the University of Wyoming. He later returned to Los Angeles to study at the University of Southern California (USC), where he earned an MS and Ph.D. in physical chemistry by the age of 24.

After college, Buss worked as a chemist for the Bureau of Mines and held positions in the aerospace industry and USC’s chemistry faculty. His first major business venture came in 1959 when he invested $1,000 in a West Los Angeles property. This marked the beginning of a highly successful career in real estate, which saw Buss and his business partner, Frank Mariani, establish Mariani‐Buss Associates. By the end of the 1970s, Buss’s real estate empire was worth an estimated $350 million.

Buss’s foray into the sports world began in 1974 when he became the owner of the Los Angeles Strings, a World TeamTennis franchise. However, it was his 1979 purchase of the NBA’s LA Lakers, the NHL’s LA Kings, The Forum indoor arena, and a 13,000-acre Sierra Nevada ranch that truly transformed his public profile and the face of American sports.

Under Buss’s ownership, the Lakers experienced unprecedented success, winning 10 NBA championships. He also revolutionized the way basketball games were presented, introducing cheerleaders, music during breaks, and a house band to play live at Laker games. Buss’s vision for sports as an all-around entertainment experience has since been adopted across the NBA and beyond.

In addition to his work with the Lakers, Buss owned the NHL’s LA Kings and the WNBA’s LA Sparks. While the Kings never achieved the same level of success as the Lakers, the Sparks won back-to-back championships in 2001 and 2002. Buss’s daughter, Jeanie, has since taken on a prominent role in the family’s sports empire, becoming the first female controlling owner to win an NBA championship in 2020.

Jerry Buss passed away in 2013 at the age of 80, leaving behind a legacy of innovation and success in the world of sports. Despite some family feuds and a history of legal trouble and extravagant lifestyle choices, Buss’s impact on the NBA and American sports entertainment cannot be denied.

Buss’s legacy is twofold. Firstly, he will always be remembered for the incredible success of the Los Angeles Lakers and their influence on the sports industry. Secondly, his vision for a more vibrant and lucrative NBA has had a lasting impact on the league and the wider world of sports. Jerry Buss was, without a doubt, one of the greatest owners in the history of American sports, and his influence will continue to be felt for generations to come. Rest in peace, Jerry Buss.